“You lads look lovely,” JC said to us. He went over to another Bombardier who grinned at us. They whispered and chuckled. “Full combats. Three minutes.”
“What the fuck?” I whispered.
JC brought his watch up to his face, “Two minutes and forty eight seconds!”
One of the lads made a dash for the block and that set us all off. Soon we were in the room tripping over gear and swearing at each other. We ended up on parade several minutes later in our combats.
“Oh. You’re late lads. Fucking hell! Press Up position down.”
We went onto the deck and began to push out press ups to his timings of ‘UP’ and ‘DOWN!’ My arms were straining and I couldn’t hold myself up anymore and came crashing down on my face.
“I want you lot back down here in 3 minutes in yer China Suit, gloves, headover and ermmm…” That was Bdr Branscombe, he confided with Bdr JC, who shouted, “NBC Overboots!”
We went back up the stairs and put the china suit on – this was a padded undergarment designed to keep you warm, the trousers were padded too, you couldn’t do much in these except sleep in them. We scrambled from the room down the stairs and outside narrowly missing a passing soldier who ducked out the way. It was beginning to get hot now and pearls of sweat began to form on my brow.
“Fuckin’ ell lads! You’re late again! Right! Get your arses around the square and back again. TWICE!”
We were off running and stumbling in our NBC overboots which were not designed to be run in. I fell on my hands and another landed next to me. It was Gonzo who panted and began to curse. “Come on. Get up Gonzo mate,” I said and pulled him up. We jogged back in to the parade area where we panted and swore at each other.
“Ha ha hey hey haaaayyy!!” We heard the shouts and looked to our left and up onto the 1st floor. A mattress flew out of the window.
“Gus,” somebody in our ranks said, and Bdr JC heard.
“That’s right folks. Gus is back and he’s trashing your room right now. How many of you left your lockers unlocked, or open?”
Fuck. Mine was wide open. I looked at my mattress and washing powder was thrown free from the room.
“NBC ROMEO BLACK!!!”
“What the fuck is NBC Romeo Black?”
“That’s everything on.”
We struggled to get our charcoal suits on, the S10 Respirator went on and then the Inner and Outer Gloves. This turned the heat on. We were literally cooking. Layers of clothing underneath saturated in sweat. We fell about the stairs and trampled a couple of guys who were unfortunate to fall. It was a crazy stampede. I heard rumours that one of the guys who fell had to medically discharged after this as he was having problems mentally.
This torture continued until we were stretching red PT shirts over our Michelin man style physiques. Star jumps on the parade area and shuttle runs. One guy fainted and another was sick in his respirator. It was a fucking mess.
That was a changing parade and it was pure torture. I think we worked into that evening and next morning just to get our rooms up to standard. We’d sleep on the floor so as not to mess up our beds.
In the morning, in that twilight just before breakfast you’d hear that buzz and know instantly another day has dawned and you are about to get thrashed. The lights come on, bright and intrusive burning into your retinas and you’re faced with a menacing Bombardier who wants nothing more than to push you to your limits.
Dean Branscombe got all his section in the corridor. He paced up and down the polished corridor swinging his pace stick.
“Little competition lads. Are youse up for it?”
“Yes Bombardier,” came the shout from the guys.
“What I’m after is an honest to god Rambo impression. I’m feeling a little down today and need something to pick me up. You’ve got an hour to get ready and then we’ll get started.”
We spent the next hour getting ourselves sorted. One guy had a bandolier of ammunition boot polished over his bare chest, another sported a bandana – I think a lot of us had the bandana. I went off and found a broom, got out my boot polish painted my face and stripped to the waist. It was boots and lightweights only with a plastic belt.
“Bring it on then!!” One at a time,” Branscombe said and we lined up to do our best Rambo impersonation. When it came to my time I just stood on top of the stairs and yelled at him with the broom out like a fucking samurai sword. I then dived at him, down the stairs and narrowly missed him. When I got up, he was still pissing himself laughing. I think he was feeling better already. I went back up clean the blood off my face. The crack on the floor hurt, but it was worth it. It was just before dinner when the winner was declared. He pointed me out and called me a ‘fucking nutter’. I was bought a pint of lager in the Gun Club and I must have downed that in 10 seconds flat. I was told that ‘mum’s the word’ and keep shtum about the lager, which I duly did. That lager tasted sweet because we hadn’t had any before and I hadn’t really drunk beer back then.